There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on over Power Plate


Remember those machines from the 1950s that used to jiggle a person’s fat in an attempt to rid the body of cellulite?

These days, a more sophisticated generation of those machines, which vibrate the entire body, is claiming it can do a lot more than eliminate cellulite.

Proponents say whole body vibration can increase muscle strength and flexibility, fight osteoporosis, improve balance and posture, increase circulation and reduce pain.

But skeptics say the claims are highly exaggerated, and that the machines might actually be dangerous. They want consumers to exercise caution if they’re going to use them.

Unlike those old-fashioned machines, the new technology relies on more aggressive vibration to stimulate muscles. One of the most popular, the Power Plate, features a vibrating platform that oscillates 30 to 50 times per second. Each time, it stimulates the nervous system and creates a reflex in the body that causes the muscles to contract.

Recent news reports say celebrities like Madonna and Heidi Klum are using it in their workouts, and the Power Plate Web site lists dozens of college and professional sports teams as using vibration training in their regimens, too.

“You’re getting a lot more muscular activity,” said Dennis Sall, a chiropractor in Mount Sinai, N.Y., who began using the Power Plate to train his patients about a year ago. “This is a great way to jump start the metabolism.”

Ultimately, he said, that causes the body to burn more calories.

Dr. Geoffrey Westrich, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan, said that’s true.

“There’s no doubt that the muscles are contracting, and you’re burning calories and strengthening muscles at the same time,” he said.

However, he thinks it needs a lot more research to back up the claims that the machine can do a lot more than just build muscle.

A quick glance at the “applications” portion of the Power Plate Web site indicates that the device can play a significant role in anti-aging, sports performance and rehabilitation. One section seems to imply that it can be used to treat everything from emphysema to multiple sclerosis to whiplash.

According to Scott Hopson, director of research, education and training for Power Plate USA, dozens of studies using Power Plate have been published in peer review journals, including the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, the American Journal of Geriatrics Society and Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

“It’s very effective for improving balance, strength and preventing the muscle and bone loss that comes with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, fibromyalgia and cerebral palsy,” he said. “One of the biggest secondary impairments of degenerative diseases is loss of muscle fibers and the ability to use them.

Vibration is a great for fighting against that.”

Hopson added that studies have shown that vibration can increase blood flow to muscle, tendon and ligament tissues and stimulate the release of hormones that are needed for healing damaged tissues.

But Westrich said it’s not the quantity but the quality of the research that concerns him.

“If you go to their Web site and look at all their studies, there is not very good science behind it,” he said. “I found only a few randomized prospective studies. There is some basic science studies about vibration … but a lot of it has nothing to do with their particular device.”

For example, many of the studies on osteoporosis, which are cited in Power Plate’s information packet, were conducted by Clinton T. Rubin, a professor in the department of biomedical engineering at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Rubin, furious that his studies are being used by the company, said, “I’ve never studied the Power Plate at all, and the vibration magnitude we used was 50 times lower than what they are using.”

Rubin works with a different company that also makes a vibration machine but one that uses much less intensity. He said his research shows that minimal vibration can stimulate bone growth, but he said, “Power Plate misuses that.”

“I’m furious that what Power Plate is doing is dangerous to people,” Rubin said. “It’s dangerous because there is a huge scientific body of evidence that high vibration magnitudes can cause lower back pain, circulation disorders, hearing loss, balance problems and vision problems.”

Dr. Jeffrey Fine recently ordered two Power Plates for two hospitals that he works at.

“Physical medicine rehab is a specialty where we apply different types of physical energy for physiologic benefit,” he said. “We considered this a newly identified modality to treat a variety of different medical conditions.”

Currently, Fine is looking into how the Power Plate will help patients with impaired sensation from diabetic neuropathy. He pointed to studies conducted at Harvard University that demonstrated how other devices that incorporate vibration technology have proven useful in stimulating multiple joints and ultimately improving balance and gait problems.

Westrich still isn’t convinced vibration technology is for everybody. For one thing, he’s not sure how useful it would be to treat osteoporosis in his elderly patients.

“I’m not sure they can tolerate being vibrated like a piece of Jell-O,” he said.

Debbe Geiger is a freelance writer specializing in health and science.

Keep Your Eyes Open


Kein v’ Lo: Snack Attack

YeLAdim talked to the LAPD and got these tips on what kids can do to stay safe — and maybe to help catch a bad guy:

  • Be aware of your surroundings on the way to and from school, at your synagogue and while hanging out with your friends.
  • If you find a note about someone wanting to hurt someone — or use a gun or knife — tell an adult immediately. If any of your friends wants to write notes like that, let them know that they could get in big-time trouble because threatening notes are no joke to the police.
  • If you see packages, boxes or bags with bottles sitting near the street or in a hallway don’t touch them.
  • If you see anything or anyone in a public place that looks like they don’t belong or is acting strangely, tell a parent, a teacher or another adult you trust.
  • When it comes to safety, there’s no such thing as a tattletale.

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue.

This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about snacks at school. Many schools have removed candy, chips and sodas from campus vending machines and replaced them with what they consider healthier snacks and drinks. Also, many schools are telling parents that when they bring a treat for a child’s birthday, it should include a healthy snack, as well.

Should schools be able to say what kids can and cannot eat?

The Kein Side:

  • Many kids are gaining weight much faster than ever before, because of how easy it has been to get sugary-, fat- and salt-filled snacks during and after school. Eliminating those kinds of foods could cut down on kids’ health problems.
  • Most kids left to their own choices probably won’t pick veggies over cookies or bottled water over soda. Cutting out unhealthy snacks at school makes sure that at least during school hours, kids will be exposed to more nutritious foods.

The Zimms Can’t Wait To Go Back To School!

The Lo Side:

  • Removing sugary snacks won’t really improve health if, at the same time, schools are cutting back on time to get exercise during recess or cutting back on physical education. Offering nutrition classes would be a better idea, allowing kids to feel they have a little say in what happens to their snacks.
  • A birthday is a celebration — if a child wants to have cupcakes, they should be able to — parents shouldn’t have to spend additional money on granola bars or fruit.

Discuss your opinions in your classroom or around your dining table with your family. We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Send your thoughts to kids@jewishjournal.com with Kein v’Lo in the subject line.

Back to School Shout-Outs

Get a head start on making new friends this year by sending a shout-out to your classmates, and we will print it here! Example: Sending a “Have a great year” to Mrs. Friedman’s sixth-grade class at Siman Tov Academy

— Josh A. & Laurie H. (names are optional).

E-mail us at ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.zimmermuseum.org.

Do Day School Health Programs Make the Grade?


Twenty parents from the Emek Hebrew Academy in Valley Village have come on a chilly winter evening to hear Dr. Francine Kaufman, a national expert on diabetes and childhood obesity, talk about promoting children’s health. Although the school has 455 families, Rabbi Sholom Strajcher, the school’s dean, is not discouraged by the modest turnout.

“We have to change the culture…. It’s a challenge,” he said.

Strajcher (pronounced Striker) tells the group he’s been overweight since childhood.

“When I was growing up, no doctor or teacher ever mentioned my weight,” he said. “I am reaping the result of all those years.”

He is not alone. In fact, Strajcher’s students are even more likely to struggle with weight issues. According to the Institute of Medicine, an agency under the National Academy of Sciences, more than 9 million U.S. children above the age of 6 are considered overweight or obese. The litany of health consequences associated with obesity — diabetes, cancer and heart disease, to name a few — might result in today’s children becoming the first generation in American history with a lower life expectancy than their parents. For children born in 2000, their lifetime risk of developing diabetes exceeds 30 percent.

Many can name factors contributing to these alarming trends: An increase in sedentary activities, such as television and computers; greater demand for convenience foods; advertisements targeting kids with high-fat foods, and an environment that discourage walking and physical activity. Given the breadth of the problem, solutions require action on all levels of society — from government and business to schools and families. Jewish day schools, which may not see their role in the equation, have been slow to address these concerns.

But some have begun to take action.

Let’s Get Physical

At Jewish day schools, the demands of a dual curriculum coupled with limited outdoor space can cause physical education to take a back seat. This is decidedly not the case at Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) Day School. When Head of School Sheva Locke joined the Encino school four years ago, one of her first priorities was instituting an athletic program. The school now employs an athletic director and two full-time coaches who supervise physical education classes and activities at recess and lunch.

The athletic department also runs an extensive after-school team sports program. Kindergarteners through third-graders can join in a Junior Sports Club, while fourth- through sixth-graders can participate in competitive sports, including basketball, soccer, football and volleyball — and 98 percent of them do. The teams compete in the San Fernando Valley Private School League. VBS provides transportation to off-site games to make participation easier on parents and children.

“The focus was on getting as many children as possible to participate and to play,” Locke said. “The problem solving and goal setting that goes along with having a physical fitness program is equally as important.”

During the school day itself, VBS provides physical education twice a week, a figure fairly standard in the day school world. For students who don’t participate in after-school physical activities, that amount is woefully inadequate, according to physician Fran Kaufman, professor of pediatrics at USC’s Keck School of Medicine and head of the Center for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles.”

“Kids should be active for 60 minutes each day,” she said.

The state of California requires that children in first through sixth grade have a minimum of 200 minutes of physical education time per 10 days of school, which averages 20 minutes per day. In seventh through 12th grade, the time requirement doubles. (According to the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, 51 percent of school districts reviewed failed to meet the state’s minimum requirement for physical education time.)

Those numbers fall far short of the 60 minutes daily recommended by Kaufman and the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans. And as Emek’s Strajcher points out, not all of that time involves being active.

“Even when kids are supposedly playing, how much of that time is spent waiting for a turn?” he asks.

At Maimonides Academy in West Hollywood, instructor Alan Rosen has designed a unique program where lessons on character and values are integrated into physical education. On the play area used by the elementary school students, circles painted on the blacktop list such values as responsibility, humility, effort and cooperation. The words are incorporated into songs and games, and are referred to in the course of regular physical activities.

“If it’s important, you find the time,” said Maimonides’ principal, Rabbi Karmi Gross. “Physical activity doesn’t have to be divorced from what else is being done.”

By the Book

Inside the classroom, the content and amount of wellness-related curriculum varies from school to school. An informal survey taken by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Los Angeles on nutrition education garnered responses from only 10 schools out of more than 30. Of those, half had no “formal” nutrition curriculum, and relied primarily on teacher-generated materials.

Because health is not a subject for which the state requires standardized testing, public school districts vary in the degree of emphasis they give the topic. Los Angeles Unified School District specifies knowledge and abilities that students are expected to master in grades four, seven, and high school.

In both public and private schools, a dedicated health class is generally taught in middle school. Seventh graders at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School in Northridge take a health and life sciences class that focuses on the physiology and biology of the human body. An eighth-grade nutrition unit includes a screening of the school version of “Super Size Me,” in which the filmmaker traced his odyssey eating McDonald’s fare exclusively three times a day for one month, and how his body suffered as a result.

“We talk about individual choices and about society, and we discuss where responsibility lies,” said science teacher Liz Wenger. “We look at how society is changing the way we eat, such as not eating at home as much, and eating larger quantities and higher fat foods.”

The students calculate their own caloric intake and use a calorimeter to measure the amount of food energy in various foods. They also build pumps to replicate the heart and use stoppers to illustrate cholesterol build-up.

VBS employs a full-time nurse whose duties include teaching health-related lessons to all grade levels. At Milken Community High School, ninth graders take a class, designed with input from a health educator and a rabbi, which explores physical, social and emotional health as well as sexuality and tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse.

Ess, Ess Mein Kind

Learning about nutrition doesn’t necessarily translate into action. Most of the schools interviewed expressed concerns about the food they provided to students, not only through formal meal programs, but also informal means such as class parties or incentives.

Eating can be an emotionally charged issue given its integral role in Jewish practice. The ubiquity of food is illustrated in the oft-repeated definition of Jewish holidays:

They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

“Every time we celebrate, we celebrate with food — and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Emek’s Strajcher. The question is what kind of food and how much. He said that traditionally, when students began to learn the aleph-bet (Hebrew alphabet) in school, the rebbe would put a drop of honey on each letter so that the children would associate learning with sweetness. Even in the synagogue itself, congregants throw candy for auf-rufs (engagements), bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

Some parents are troubled by the amount of sugary snacks given to their children.

Kaufman noted that packaged kosher snacks can be some of the worst offenders in terms of saturated fat content.

Last year, Emek parents formed a committee and worked with the school’s caterer and a nutritionist to improve the healthfulness of school lunches. Parent Amy Leibowitz, who spearheaded the committee, said it was a challenge to satisfy nutritional, budgetary and kashrut considerations simultaneously. The results included adding fruit and salad, subtracting dessert, serving foods that are baked instead of fried, serving leaner, lower-salt meat, and making water available at mealtimes. She said that classes now celebrate all the month’s birthdays at one time to limit the influx of sugary treats.

Maimonides also revised its lunch program, and modified the practice of using food as an incentive. Instead of giving Israeli chocolates as rewards, principal Gross now gives Israeli postcards.

“We’re not yet where we want to be,” he said. “But we’ll eventually get there.”
Vending machine soft drink sales — a tempting source of revenue for some schools — will likely decline due to a decision announced in May by the nation’s largest beverage distributors to discontinue selling beverages with more than 100 calories to schools. It is estimated that the practice will affect 87 percent of the public and private school market.

As schools grapple with decisions regarding food policies, Emek’s Strajcher says that they can look to Judaism for a model of dietary self control.

“Kashrut [shows us that] when it comes to food, there has to be a certain discipline,” he said.

And as Eileen Horowitz, principal at Temple Israel of Hollywood, noted, “The [mission] for a Jewish school is teaching how to make good choices. That applies to how we talk to a neighbor as well as what we put in our mouth.”

Just Do It

Some administrators cited the challenge of fitting in adequate time for physical activity and comprehensive health education on top of an already full dual curriculum.

“There’s tremendous pressure for time,” acknowledged Dr. Roxie Esterle, Heschel’s associate head of school. “It’s a very full day and it gets fuller and fuller,” she said, mentioning computers and technology as examples.

Secular schools also struggle with these issues. A recently released national report found that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 was threatening physical education time because subjects that are not tested — including physical education — receive lower priority. In Los Angeles, 68 percent of high school students failed to meet recommended levels of physical activity according to a 2005 study by the CDC.

Yet, practicality dictates that schools take action on this issue: The California Department of Education states that healthy, active and well-nourished children are more likely to attend school and are more prepared and motivated to learn. The 2006 Shape of the Nation Report, issued jointly by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and the American Heart Association, recommends that schools across the country “make physical education instruction the cornerstone of a comprehensive school physical activity program that also includes health education, elementary school recess, after-school physical activity clubs and intramurals, high school interscholastic athletics, walk/bike to school programs and staff wellness programs.”

Given that Judaism mandates the care of our bodies, Jewish day schools have an imperative to address these issues.

“If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to serve God with fullness,” Strajcher said. “Your soul can only do what it needs to do when your physical self is intact.”
He hopes to spare his students from facing the weight issues that have plagued him since childhood, and from the dire consequences which may result.

“If this is preventable and we can do something about it, it’s our obligation to do so,” he said.

Health Report Card for Schools

To determine how well your school promotes wellness, here are some questions to ask:

  1. How much physical education time is allotted?

  2. Is the physical education instructor certified?
  3. Are children actively engaged during physical education and recess?
  4. Does the school offer after-school activities or team sports?
  5. Do health lessons address nutrition and physical activity?
  6. What is the content of school lunches, and who determines this?
  7. Are fresh fruits and vegetables offered daily?
  8. Does the school have a policy on desserts and snacks?
  9. Is there a vending machine on campus? What does it offer?

Sonoma Plan Adds Flavor to Dull Diets


Dr. Connie Guttersen is on a mission to make America smaller. Well, perhaps not geographically, but at least to shrink the size of the average American.

Scientific studies have proven that weight-loss diets that are based on moderate amounts of the healthiest types of fats, such as olive oil, fish and nuts, are more effective long-term than traditional low-fat diets. And since the low-fat diet myth was busted recently with the publication of “The Nurses’ Health Study II,” the public is struggling to determine what role fat should play in everyday meals.

Guttersen explains that a moderate amount of the best types of fat make healthy foods taste better. This is the basic premise behind her best-selling book, “The Sonoma Diet” (Meredith Books, 2005), a Northern California spin on the Mediterranean diet that also encourages plenty of wine consumption, setting it apart from many other structured diets.

A 2001 weight-loss study cited in the International Journal of Obesity compared a Mediterranean-inspired diet (moderate in fat) to a low-fat diet and found that the Mediterranean-inspired diet had more long-term success when it came to weight loss and participants adhering to it. It also found that vegetable consumption actually went up in the Mediterranean diet group as compared to the group that ate the low-fat version of the diet.

Many low-fat dieters fail to stick with their plan because the foods they’re eating simply don’t taste good or fail to satisfy their hunger. A common challenge with low-fat diets is that it may also promote an increased dependence or selection of highly refined processed fat-free grains and snacks. This combination is not ideal for individuals challenged by sweet cravings and poor blood glucose control. The Sonoma diet also differs from the famed South Beach Diet in that there is no glycemic index to check.

The type of fat we eat has an affect on health and the success of weight loss more than just focusing on the total amount. Limiting the amount of saturated fats and hydrogenated fats becomes the real issue for healthy weight loss. Saturated fats, such as those found in animal products, tropical oils and hydrogenated fats can actually contribute to obesity and the health related problems associated with being overweight.

The Sonoma Diet, inspired by the Mediterranean and California wine country, combines this healthy way of eating with a weight-loss plan to lose weight and gain health with the most flavorful foods. Beyond low-fat diets, The Sonoma Diet focuses on the ideal balance and type of healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil and almonds in combination with lean meats, wholesome grains, fruits, low-fat dairy and colorful vegetables. Although there is much discussion as to whether a diet should be low fat, low carb or even high protein, The Sonoma Diet recognizes the need to clear away the confusion and form a comprehensive approach.

An eating plan with the healthiest foods in the smartest combinations maximizes the health benefits of all foods absorbed and boosts weight loss. For example, combining a medley of roasted peppers and tomatoes with a tasty vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil, not only enhances the flavor, but boosts the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants contained in the peppers and tomatoes. A salad of baby spinach and other dark greens sprinkled with toasted almonds makes for a delicious and smart combination when it comes to health. An herb-marinated flank steak served with roasted broccoli sprinkled with toasted almonds, and wild rice is another great way to enhance the health and flavor in these foods.

“These combinations are not only delicious, but they enhance the protective qualities of these foods so as to reduce risk factors associated with many diseases such as heart disease and cancer,” Guttersen explained.

Heart Disease

A diet inspired by the Mediterranean lifestyle, with a moderate amount of fat, is more effective in reducing cardiovascular risk factors as compared to the conventional low-fat diets. Monounsaturated fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocados and nuts contain healthy fatty acids, antioxidants and unique phytochemicals that have been found to offer more cardiovascular protection when it comes to atherosclerosis, stroke and inflammation.

Cancer

Studies have confirmed that a Mediterranean diet, characterized by high consumption of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean meats and healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts, protects against cancer. Many of the healthy fats contribute their own antioxidants as well enhance the protective actions of other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables which act us a protective factor against cancer risk factors.

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Mirror, Mirror


I think I have body dysmorphia: an unnatural and distorted view of my physique, otherwise known as false body image.

See, I’m the only woman I know who has ever expressed a bit of shock at the Dove advertisements.

They’ve been running for the last few months on billboards, on bus-stop ads and in magazines. Surely you noticed: It’s a veritable chorus line of women clad in the barest essentials of white bra and underwear. But the clothes — or lack thereof — are not what stand out.

It’s the women: Instead of the super tall, super skinny and buxom Amazonians with not one ounce of fat on their bodies, these Dove Girls, as they’ve come to be known, have flab. They’ve got love handles or a little belly or thighs that actually touch and hips made for child birthing. In other words, they’re regular people.

They’re mostly in the Size 8-12 range — which is thin for the typical American woman, who averages out at Size 16. But runway models wear Size 0-4. (Why do they even offer a Size 0?) Every single woman that I’ve spoken to loves the ads.

“Finally, they’re showing what real women look like,” my friends say. “It’s refreshing to see normal bodies on billboards.”

Millions of women have responded favorably to these women, because they’re real, they’re curvy and, truth be told, they’re pretty tight — no jingling or jangling, no unsightly, pockmarked cellulite or varicose veins.

But my first thought was, Don’t you think they’re a little … fat?

Just a little? A teeny bit? I never said this out loud, not in the company of women. Because I’d probably be stoned. I’d be branded a traitor to womankind, flogged and marked publicly with a the scarlet letters F.C.P. — as in Ariel Levy’s new book “Feminist Chauvinist Pigs” (Free Press) which accuses some women of buying into — and perpetuating — male stereotypes of women.

Have I betrayed all my feminist principles and begun to view myself through the prism of society’s — i.e. men’s — standards?

Well, no.

Honestly, this has nothing to do with guys — the standards are all my own. See, I’ve always had issues with fat. But what Jewish woman doesn’t? Although judging by the content of women’s magazines, weight seems to be a national obsession.

Are there any women who were born with perfect bodies who are completely satisfied with those bodies? Women who only eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full? Who don’t save up calories for a really big meal? Or go on juice fast days and cabbage soup diets or count calories or carbs or fats or oils or cholesterol or sodium — or the way the letters of the food add up to spell the devil’s name backward?

Maybe there are women out there who don’t act like the rest of us, but I’ve never met one. (OK, I did once, but I killed her.)

Seriously, am I the only person who walks past other woman on the street comparing myself to her?: Is she thinner than me? Does my butt really look like that? Please don’t say that’s what my elbows look like.

The thing is, I used to be skinnier. I used to be in my 20s. I used to be a teenager. Maybe I’m not a sick person; maybe I’m just trying to recapture my youth, or the body of my youth.

Feeling this nostalgia, I sifted through some old beach pictures. And I made an amazing discovery: I wasn’t any skinnier then. If anything, actually, my arms are a little more toned now, my stomach a little flatter, and my tush is a little less, well, tushier.

So how is it that I feel fatter?

Could it be my surroundings, the fact that I’m no longer in New York City, a metropolis filled with Jewish women who have Jewish women’s bodies — which are generally shorter in height, fuller in the hips and bust and wider in the derriere.

Now I live among a people (“Angelenos”) whose arms look like ski slopes and whose hip bones jut out like moguls on a bare mountain. These are women whose necks are so thin you could see the food being swallowed — if you could catch them in the act of eating. These are women who might have been called gawky, or skinny or coat hangers when they were younger, but for the magic of surgery and a sick workout schedule, have now defined an impossible standard of beauty.

Have I violated the Ten Commandments by coveting these bodies, these waifish figures I will never, ever, ever, become?

As I ponder these sins, and wonder how I have become my own worst enemy, I see the Dove ad again. And again. And again.

I still do that thing: Is she fatter than me? Is she fatter than me?

But then I find one woman in the ad who is no fatter, no skinnier, no taller or no shorter than me. She is me. And she is not bad. She is not fat. She looks nice. We look nice.

Not that I’m not completely reformed. I don’t look at Calvin Klein models and think: You are way too skinny, you war victim.

Yet, sometimes, I look in the mirror and say to myself: not bad; not bad at all.

But even that’s not the point, is it?

The trick is to peer into the looking glass and see that it’s only my reflection in there — not the essential me — and to turn around and walk away.

 

Taking the Schmaltz Out of Our Food


At sundown on Monday we usher in the happiest day of our calendar, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. For the next 10 days we’ll be called upon to reexamine our lives — to wake up and not only smell the roses, but plant them for other people to enjoy.

The Days of Awe end at sundown on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we’ll spend the day in temple fasting and praying. Our sundown to sundown fast brings us agony and ecstasy as we internalize how fleeting life is, promise to make amends for acts we’re not proud of, realize we have a whole new year ahead of us to make a difference.

As we hurriedly leave the temple with visions of chopped liver, lokshen kugel and our beloved cheese blintzes dancing in our heads, we know it’s just a matter of moments before we can eat.

Lately though, we’ve had to rethink this. Though it’s a beloved family tradition to break the fast with our favorite Ashkenazi dishes, we also know they contain ingredients that top the cardiologist’s list of no-no’s — red meat, schmaltz, cottage cheese, sour cream and butter. Fat, fat and more fat.

In response, creative Jewish cooks have been hard at work adapting these recipes. And, as rabbi and cookbook author Gil Marks says, with a laugh, "Healthy Jewish cooking is no longer an oxymoron."

Marks modifies traditional holiday recipes in "The World of Jewish Entertaining" (Simon & Schuster, 1998). He uses meat sparingly, as a flavoring instead of the main event. He also uses recipes from the Sephardim, who migrated to areas as diverse as North and South Africa, the Middle East, India and later to the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Their cuisine revolved around the three main ingredients mentioned in the Bible: grains, wine and olive oil.

As for our traditional Ashkenazi delicacies, which nourish our souls more than our bodies, Marks substitutes yogurt for sour cream in blintzes, kugels and borsht, uses olive oil instead of schmaltz for chopped liver — or even eliminates liver altogether in favor of a pate of mushrooms, onions and string beans. Instead of stuffing chicken with oil-soaked bread cubes, he suggests apples and spinach, traditional ingredients for the New Year.

Marks has also gone where few men have ventured before him — perfecting a recipe for whole wheat challah, which subtracts eggs and extra fat, adding whole wheat, wheat germ and honey for moisture. He sweetens dishes with fruits instead of sugar. But, he cautions, "Be smart with substitutions. Don’t serve a dish just because it’s low fat. Experiment until you’re happy with the flavor."

Since we’re trying to modify tradition, not break it, instead of asking a Jewish matriarch for our Break the Fast menu, we went to premier Jewish chef and caterer, David Rubell, who serves the Break the Fast Meal at Temple Shalom for the Arts in Los Angeles.

Rubell learned about "food from the old country" from the closest person to him — his Nana Willner. "On Yom Kippur, she’d shine," he says. "Because she knew she’d be in shul all day, and exhausted when she got home, she developed a technique that I, as a caterer, use to this day.

"Nana was meticulously organized. The day before Yom Kippur, she’d assemble her ingredients, then slice, dice, and, in some cases, partially cook, then refrigerate the dishes. When she got home from shul, she’d finish each recipe and have it on the table — piping hot or ice cold — almost instantly. Nothing ever tasted like it had been sitting in the refrigerator all night. Everything was always delicious.

"I learned another lesson from Nana," Rubell says slyly. "Seltzer water in matzah balls. ‘Most people use fat, eggs and too much matzo meal,’ she’d scoff, in her inimitable Russian-Brooklyn accent. ‘And they handle them too much. Of course, they’re like lead.’

"Not my Nana’s," he says. "Hers were always light as a feather. I used to laugh, because when we’d eat at my other grandma’s, Nana Rubell, her matzah balls were like sinkers. We never told her our secret.

"When Nana made blintzes she’d insist on filling them with pot cheese. When she couldn’t find it, she’d substitute Farmer’s. Of course, she’d grouse every time. The mystery ingredient in her sweet blintzes was salt. Just like the infamous spoonful of sugar, ‘A pinch of salt makes us remember who we are and where we came from,’ she’d tell me. ‘Life is not all sweetness and honey. Never forget that!’ This is especially relevant on Yom Kippur, which is all about that little dose of reality," Rubell muses.

As Rubell grew older and started working as a professional chef, his beloved nana took sick with pancreatic cancer. He trudged down to Florida and cooked her all of her favorite meals. "That meant more to her than anything," he says, his eyes welling up. It made him start thinking about lightening the traditional Jewish foods he’d grown up with.

Today when he’s doing a menu, he starts with the dishes she’d taught him, then replaces them with healthier variations.

For example, Rubell replaces the customary sour cream topping for the blintzes with fresh berry compote. Instead of sweet, heavy babkas that "will lay in your stomach for the next three days," he’ll serve a fresh peach cobbler. Since tuna salad with gobs of mayo is a staple on many buffets, Rubell created savory Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad. Instead of the traditional sweet, heavy kugel, he’ll serve a vegetable frittata. According to Rubell, "We never forget our cultural traditions, but we’re reinterpreting them for today’s healthier lifestyles."

Have a happy and healthy New Year!


Recipes for taking out the Schmaltz from Jewish food

All recipes from Chef David Rubell.

Smoked Whitefish Salad (A favorite of Theodore Bikel’s)
Smoked Trout may be substituted for the whitefish.

1 smoked whitefish, approximately 2 lbs., carefully boned
1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise (low fat or regular)
1 bunch scallions, green part only, sliced thin

Pulse all ingredients in food processor until just smooth. Refrigerate. Serve as appetizer with crackers or challah, or as first course with baby greens and tomato.

Serves 8 to 10.

Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with Mango

1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon wasabi
1 1/2 pounds, fresh ahi tuna
1/4 cup canola oil
1 One-pound package wonton skins
1 quart canola oil for frying noodles
1/2 Six-ounce package saifun or dry
bean thread noodles, broken in half
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup dry roasted, salted cashews
1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced very thin
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, sliced very thin
2 bunches green onion, green part sliced diagonally
2 mangoes, peeled and sliced thin

For Dressing:
2 ounces pickled ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, white only
1 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Chinese sweet and sour sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil

Mix together soy sauce and wasabi. Marinate tuna in mixture for 20 minutes. Sear tuna in hot, nonstick skillet with 1/4 cup oil approximately 1 minute per side. Refrigerate immediately after removing tuna from heat. Allow to cool at least 1/2 hour before slicing for salad. Slice tuna into 1 1/2 inch pieces, reserving odd sizes to incorporate into body of salad.

Slice wonton skins into very thin julienne strips. Fry noodles in very hot oil in 3 separate batches, so as not to decrease oil temperature. Cook noodles approximately 1 minute, tossing constantly. Drain on paper towels.

Bring oil back to temperature. Fry saifun noodle halves separately from each other as they expand rapidly upon hitting the oil. Turn once, remove from pot; drain on paper towel. Repeat until all noodles are fried.

For Dressing:

Place all ingredients in blender and mix for 3 minutes.

To Assemble:

Reserving small handful of wonton noodles and nuts for garnish, toss with dressing, lettuce, cabbage, green onion, nuts, saifun and wonton noodles, and odd pieces of tuna. Place on platter; arrange remaining tuna slices and mangoes decoratively around salad. Top with additional noodles and nuts.

Serves 8 to 10.

Holiday Cheese Blintzes Topped with a Trio of Fresh Berries

(This recipe is from David’s beloved Nana Willner, who told him, “With every bit of sugar, you need a pinch of salt.”)

The pancakes may be purchased ready-made in the produce section of the supermarket.

For the pancake batter:

Chocolates and Knaidlach and Kugel, Oh My!


Real whipped butter. There’s only one time of year you’ll find it in my refrigerator — Pesach.

To me, sitting down Pesach morning with a cup of coffee, a box of matzah, a tub of sweet butter and a few different flavors of jelly is as essential to the holiday as the “Mah Nishtanah.”

That poses a bit of a problem this year, since I’ve spent every Thursday night for the past 14 months at a Weight Watchers meeting.

Pesach can be a nightmare for anyone counting calories.

The holiday’s foods are more laden with fat and emotion than any other time of year, and most people count on gaining a good five pounds over eight days.

That’s what prompted Elaine Berman — Sinai Temple member, interior designer, Jewish Federation volunteer, proud mother of Super Sunday Director Jody Berman, and Weight Watchers leader extraordinaire — to hold her first ever pre-Pesach pep talk last Sunday at Weight Watchers’ Westwood branch.

For the past eight years, Berman has inspired thousands of people to take off and keep off the pounds. She now leads 12 meetings a week, seeing about 400 people.

She says Pesach is probably the hardest week of the year.

“Pesach is like having eight days of Thanksgiving,” Berman told the group of about 50 people, which included Chabadniks, Stephen S. Wise members and everything in between. “It’s a very difficult holiday, and we have to take it with a common sense approach.”

Passover launches a multipronged attack, throwing rich and delicious foods our way while weakening our emotional and psychological defenses.

“There’s the whole deprivation factor,” piped up one person at the Weight Watchers meeting. “I think there’s so much I can’t have that week, God forbid I should be hungry.”

Just the novelty of all the prepared foods probably causes people to stock their pantries with foods they would never have the rest of the year, like five boxes of griddle mix, piles of chocolate bars, or, as Berman saw at one market, non-dairy kosher-for-Passover cheesecake (now really, how good could that possibly be?).

And don’t underestimate the power of comfort foods. Nostalgia can wreak havoc on otherwise steel will-power. Whether its chocolate-dipped macaroons or schmaltzy chopped liver, what your mother or grandmother served is probably going to end up on your table.

But don’t be afraid of lightening those recipes up a bit, Berman suggests.

“We still hold on to this idea that if it’s not rich, if it’s decaloried a little bit, it’s not going to be as good,” she says of Jewish eating habits. “We show our love and our prosperity with plenty.”

Of course, that’s a broad stereotype with major exceptions, and most people today are more conscious of fat and cholesterol. But on Pesach that awareness gets stored away with the chumetzdik dishes.

For Berman the challenge starts well before Pesach, in the “finishing-up frenzy” in the weeks before.

“I used to gain five pounds just cleaning my kitchen, because of my mother’s words, ‘it’s an aveirah (sin) to throw food away,'” Berman says.

Those pounds set the stage for the rest of the week, well beyond Seder night, Berman says.

She acknowledges that it’s nearly impossible to have a low-calorie Seder.

By the time the meal-your-mother-slaved-over hits the table, you’ve already filled up on matzah, charoset, eggs and potatoes. And just because you’re full on brisket and kugel doesn’t mean you won’t sample the chocolate covered matzahs, marble sponge cake and Barton’s candies.

But Seder is only two nights — not eight days.

“The biggest change for me in not having Pesach cost me eight pounds was understanding that seder indulgence and required foods was one thing, but the rest of the week doesn’t have to be matzah with greibenes (an Eastern European delicacy of chicken skin fried in schmaltz),” Berman says.

Most importantly, she says, “Pesach is such an important holiday to us. Make sure you enjoy it.”

As for me, I probably won’t have too much matzah with butter this year, since I’ll have lots of other foods to tempt me. I’ll be at one of these Passover hotels where there are around 12 meals a day — kind of like eight days of Thanksgiving, on a cruise ship.

But I am empowered. I know how to exercise control. I will allow myself small indulgences to satisfy my natural cravings. I will exercise. I will use all my Weight Watchers tools to successfully navigate my way through the extravagant buffet breakfasts, the heavy lunches and dinners — where there will be lots of beef, and always dessert. And of course, the multiple “tea rooms.” Tables and tables full of crispy potato chips, salty nuts, carefully crafted pastries, thick, rich ice cream, candies in all flavors and colors and textures. And chocolate. Mounds and mounds and mounds of chocolate.

Sure, I’ll be just fine.

Seven Tips for not gaining 100 Pounds in Eight Days:

1. The ritual requirements of Seder make a high-calorie night inevitable. But that doesn’t need to carry over to all the other nights — and days — of Pesach, too.

2. Eat fresh, simple foods instead of all the prepared, packaged stuff. Indulge in expensive fruits and vegetables, make interesting salads.

3. Don’t try to totally deprive yourself of the traditional comfort foods of Pesach. Just eat them in reasonable portions. Allowing yourself to indulge a little bit can empower you, and allow you to maintain control of your eating.

4. Don’t try to lose weight on Pesach, just concentrate on not gaining more than a pound our two.

5. Try lower-calorie versions of your favorite foods. Use egg whites instead of whole eggs, and cooking spray instead of oil. Cut the fat in most recipes.

6. Drink lots of water and exercise.

7. If you do over-indulge on Pesach, forgive yourself and move on. Don’t let the guilt throw you into an entire summer of unhealthy eating.

To sign up with Weight Watchers, call (800) 651-6000.